January 15, 2009
Are we moving toward a project-based job market?
Tina Brown seems to think so.
"No one I know has a job anymore. They've got Gigs," she wrote on Monday in her Daily Beast essay "The Gig Economy."
To back up her assertion that the recession has us all headed for free-agentdom, she polled 500 U.S. workers over age 18 earlier this month and found that a third of them were either freelancing or working two jobs. She also found that half of them had taken on additional jobs during the last six months. And that many of these workers were college educated and pulling in at least $75,000 a year.
I agree that the economic freefall we now find ourselves in will be responsible for more workers striking out on their own. This was one my predictions for the top work/life balance stories of 2009 -- primarily because we've seen this before.
In 2000 and 2001, the Recession Lite we found ourselves in led to unemployed workers hanging their own shingle in droves. (Curiously, this immediately followed Free Agent Nation author Dan Pink's late-nineties prediction that -- thanks to the pre-bust dotcom revolution -- we'd all be working for ourselves soon enough.)
But I don't entirely credit our current mega-recession for prompting more workers to go solo or cobble together a paycheck from various part-time jobs. For better or worse, the rise of outsourcing, permatemping, teleworking, and mobile technologies began paving the way for an increased amount of free agency long before this recession began. Likewise, I don't think we're just a mere blink away from our entire workforce being comprised of free agents.
I also don't agree with Brown's overly pessimistic assessment of the freelance life. Yes, as Brown points out, there are some real pitfalls of living gig to gig: One, the benefits stink. Two, companies see the quality of their projects suffer because there's less consistency in the workers executing them. (Hey, you get what you do -- or don't -- pay for.) Three, during the busiest of weeks, freelancing can often feel like you're jugging an army of fire-breathing dragons.
But for all her dwelling on the negatives of project work, Brown overlooks one crucial detail: many freelancers want to work solo, running their own show and choosing their own projects, colleagues, and work schedules -- recession or no, pros far outweighing the cons.
Put another way, I find it curious that freelancing and alternative ways of working (part-time jobs, for example) are looked upon as the Holy Grail of work during prosperous times where traditional day jobs are abundant but as employment's ugly stepchild during economic crunches like the one we're in now. I realize that I may be biased, seeing as I've been freelancing and doing contract work for 16 years. So I welcome all your input on all this.
If you'd like to hear more about freelancing during a recession, I'll be talking on the topic and answering questions at 7 pm tonight at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park. Free and open to the public. If you stop by, be sure to introduce yourself and tell me what you think.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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